101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die

| October 4, 2016

In this day and age, any list-format book is, by definition, going to go out of date the second the text is locked, often quite a while before publication. The current version, edited by Steven Jay Schneider, is an update of the 2009 edition, which itself ended with the 2006 film Children of Men. This version adds three titles subsequent to that date, but the list ends in 2013 — which makes me wonder which three films were sacrificed for the sake of including three more modern titles.

That said, this is the kind of book that’s great to have on hand just because, especially if you’re a fan of film history. It offers over a hundred years of highlights in a capsule history of science fiction in film.

One thing that becomes immediately apparent is that very few science fiction films from the earliest days of cinema either survived or were worth noting. We skip through the preliminaries in less than a handful of films before jumping to the 1930s for a single visit. There were either no science fiction films produced in the 1940s or, again, none worth noting, before we hit the 1950s and start to get into all those wonderful titles that defined the era and helped create the genre as we know it now.

Content-wise, the book strikes a good balance between those films that everyone has heard of (The Day the Earth Stood Still, E.T.) and those that the general public might not know about but should (Seconds, The Navigator). It also throws in a few that probably even die-hard American sci-fi cinema fans may not have heard of, like Czechoslovakia’s 1966 Who Killed Jessie? or the USSR’s 1924 Aelita.

Each entry is accompanied by two pages of text and two full-page photos, generally the original film poster and an image most representative of the film. That doesn’t leave room for a lot of information, but the copy does do a good job of giving an idea of what made the film significant in its time and why it’s still important to see it now.

In that regard, it makes the book an essential part of a “film school on a shelf” — a work you can quickly consult to find out why a particular title was significant, what kinds of sci-fi films were being made during a certain time period, or just for fun. The text works whether you’ve seen and are very familiar with a film, or have never heard of it before.

It is essential to keep in mind that this collection isn’t meant to be a “best of” Sci-Fi Film guide. Rather, it’s meant to be a list of the films you should see if you want to understand the history of the genre, and how the industry is affected not only by preceding generations of creators and viewers, but as always by irresistible external forces — both market and political. There’s a reason that there were no notable science fiction films made in the 1940s, after all.

The only real drawback to this book is the format itself, which I like to think of as “dollhouse coffee table.” It’s smaller than a standard paperback but, at over 400 pages, is very thick, made more so because the paper is extra thick and clearly not cheap. The problem is that it makes the book very heavy, a bit awkward to hold with one hand, and hard to stash in a pocket or backpack. It also detracts from full appreciation of the photos and artwork, which would have been better served in a large tabloid size — that would have given the advantage of making the book thinner from front to back.

And although this one seems like a natural for e-readers, it doesn’t appear to be available in those formats at the moment. This kind of book would lend itself very well to a highly interactive version, which would only increase its educational value.

Speaking of which, I see that there’s a Cult Movie version in this book series, with Divine in Pink Flamingos on the cover. I’m going to have to add that one to the collection…

About the Author:

Jon Bastian Jon is a playwright and screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles, where he has been currently appearing in Flash Theater LA when not working for Cesar Millan to keep his dogs rolling in kibble.
$14.95 Filed in: Books on Film
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